For all the information and queries regarding this feature, we recommend reading this document. Feel free to contact us if you have any issues regarding the list. 100 Best Young Players to Watch-Out for in 2014 | Defenders (10 – 1)
10) Aymeric Laporte
Who is he?: Aymeric Laporte is a defender of French nationality who currently plays at Athletic Bilbao in La Liga. He is primarily a centre back, but can also fill in at left back. The 19 year old has been capped twice at the U-21 level too.
Back in 2013: Laporte first broke into the team towards the end of the year in 2012, and enjoyed a spot in the starting line up under Marcelo Bielsa for the first 4 months of the year, making 12 starts in the first half of 2013. A change of season has seen more game time for the young defender, as Valverde has given him a role in the first team. He’s made 18 La Liga appearances, scoring twice for his side.
The first half of the year saw him play a key role in the friendlies that the French U-19 side played, as he regularly saw out the 90 minutes for the team. In the summer, he played for Les Blues in the U-19 Euros, and was a vital cog in the team that went all the way to the final. The second half of the year saw him move up an age group to the U-21’s. Here too, Laporte has done well, playing the full 90 minutes in both of their qualifying games for the U-21 Euros.
Looking to 2014: Laporte is a young and precocious talent that needs to be nurtured carefully. At Bilbao, he finds himself in the company of some other good players like Muniain, along with experienced heads. He will look to continue doing well here, and it would be best for him to stay here for a while, before dreaming of moves to bigger European giants.
9) Matija Nastasic
Who is he?: Nastasic is a 20 year old centre back, currently playing at the heart of the Manchester City defence. The Serbian is a former Fiorentina player, who joined the Citizens back in 2013 as part of the swap dealing which saw Stefan Savic go the other way.
Back in 2013: Nastasic signed for City at the start of the 2012-13 season, and almost immediately broke into the first team, displacing Joleon Lescott. The defender earned his place and praise from City fans for his calm and assured displays at the back alongside captain Vincent Kompany. This season, Nastasic has struggled a bit with injuries, missing a few games due to them. City, as a consequence have struggled at the back, and leaked a few cheap goals as the combination of Kompany and Nastasic was missing. Performance wise too, he wasn’t at his best at times, with the header back to Joe Hart at Chelsea proving costly. All in all, the Serb has made 11 Premier league appearances with a solitary goal coming against Norwich.
Internationally, he was already a part of the Serbian national set up, and played in their world cup qualification campaign and friendlies quite actively.
Looking to 2014: Nastasic won’t be going to the World Cup, and he will be quite disappointed about this. However, a regular starting place at City means that the defender can stay focused on giving his best, and helping them to titles.
8) Juan Bernat
Back in 2013: Like his predecessor Jordi Alba, Bernat too is a left back who loves to get forward and attack the opposition. In the 2012-13 season, Bernat was more of a back up player, and was restricted to appearances off the bench. It was in the summer that he made his bones, playing impressively for Spain at the U-20 World Cup. He started and finished every match for the La Roja as they crashed out after an extra time defeat to Uruguay in the quarter finals. This season, he’s made a place for himself in the first eleven. He’s made 16 appearances, 10 of which have been starts. He’s been quite regular in the Europa League, and the Copa Del Rey as well. Bernat has also made it to Spain’s U-21 side as the starting left back, playing in their qualifiers for the U-21 Euros. He even has a goal and 3 assists to show for his efforts so far this campaign.
Looking to 2014: 2014 is going to be a big year for Bernat. He’s been given a number of opportunities, and it’s up to him to continue his rich vein of form. Valencia have had an indifferent season so far, but Bernat has been a shining star, and the youngster will look to keep it up. World Cup looks unlikely, but if he can lay a solid foundation, he might well be an important part of the team that goes to Russia in 2018.
7) Eder Alvarez Balanta
Who is he?: Colombia is fast becoming a hub for new and emerging talent, and the latest in a long line is Eder Alvarez Balanta. The 20 year old centre back plays for River Plate, in Argentina, and is hotly tipped to join Barcelona in the near future.
Back in 2013: Balanta initially didn’t manage to make it to the team’s starting 11, making no appearances at all in the 2012-13 Inicial. However, he got his chance in the Torneo Final and took it with both hands. He made his debut against Racing Club in April, and didn’t look back from there, making 9 starts that season. This season, in the Inicial, he’s been a regular, starting 15 of the 19 games that were played. He’s even a part of the Colombian senior team, making the bench for their 2 friendlies against Belgium and Holland.
Looking to 2014: Balanta has an exciting 2014 to look forward to. The Final will be starting soon, in February, and the World Cup follows that. Post the tournament, if the defender does complete his move to Barcelona, he’ll be in a new environment at a world class club, and playing alongside some of the best in the business. Balanta will have to stay focused to get through these challenges successfully.
6) Luke Shaw
Back in 2013: Shaw had an excellent introduction to top flight football in 2012-13, along with Southampton. He was a regular starter for both Adkins and Pochettino as Southampton successfully avoided the drop. The defender made 22 starts in the League, aside from making appearances for the U-21’s and in the cups as well.
In his second season, many feared that he and his team might suffer from the famed ‘Second Season Syndrome’, but the team silenced its critics, and are lodged comfortably in the top half of the table. Shaw too, has grown, and his performances have won him plaudits from everywhere, as he comfortably established himself as the best left back in his club. Internationally too, he is touted as a future England starter, but many would already have him ahead of Cole and Baines. He’s made 18 league appearances this season, and is also a regular part of the England U-21 team.
Looking to 2014: There’s no doubt about the fact that Shaw has a very bright future ahead of him. The self-confessed Chelsea fan has been linked to clubs like United, Chelsea and City very strongly, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him end up at one of these giants very soon. As for his international aspirations, if Hodgson decides to take 2 left backs, then it is unlikely that he’ll travel to Brazil, but regardless of that, he’s got a bright future at the level.
5) Matthias Ginter
Who is he?: One of Germany’s top young talents, Ginter is a centre back playing for Freiburg in the Bundesliga. He also plays for the German U-21 team, and was a part of the side that took part in the U-21 Euros in the summer. Ginter is also capable of playing as a defensive midfielder
Back in 2013: Ginter picked up an injury towards the end of 2012, and this affected his start to the new year. Upon his return from the injury though, he established his place in the side, regularly starting and finishing matches, as he helped Freiburg to perform above expectations. At this point, he was still playing for the U-19’s, but in the summer, he was drafted into the U-21 squad for the Euros. It was here that he really caught the eye. Even though Germany were knocked out early, Ginter performed exceptionally. This season, Ginter has continued the good work for Freiburg. He’s played every minute of the 17 starts he’s made, and his consistency has been fabulous. The 1-1 draw with Bayern was his personal highlight, as he put in a tremendous performance to help his side hold the Champions to a draw.
Looking to 2014: Ginter can’t realistically expect to go to the World Cup in the summer with all the options that Die Manschaaft have in defence, but the youngster shouldn’t be too disheartened by that. He’s already made some huge strides forward and if he continues in this vein, he’ll do very well over the year.
Back in 2013: Marquinhos had a very good 2013. At the start of the year he was at Roma in Italy. He was a regular there under both managers, Zeman and Andreazolli. He was also a mainstay in defence as Roma went all the way to the Coppa Italia final, narrowly losing out to Lazio. In the summer, the Brazilian defender was a subject of transfer speculation, and eventually trod the well worn path from Serie A to PSG, going for a price of around 30-35 million Euros according to various media outlets. With all the competition at the Parisian club, it was always going to be difficult for young Marquinhos to break into the side. He made his first appearance on the 19th of September in the Champions League, netting a on debut. Since then, he’s been in the team regularly, without really establishing himself as a nailed on starter. Blanc’s policy of rotation can be blamed for this. He’s made 8 starts for PSG, and scored once in the league. In the Champions League, he’s featured in every group game, starting 5 of them, and scoring twice, both in his first two appearances.
Looking to 2014: Marquinhos will have to work hard to try and convince Blanc that he belongs in the starting 11. He’s done well so far at PSG, but now that he’s settled, he will probably improve on those 8 starts. Making it to the World Cup might be a little tougher. With all the quality centre backs at Scolari’s disposal, Marquinhos certainly isn’t first choice at the moment, but a good start to 2014 might just change that.
3) Jetro Willems
Back in 2013: Willems was a regular at PSV last season as well. At the start of the year, he missed the first game after the Christmas break because of injury, but returned was back in the team soon after. The left back is very consistent, and even made appearances for the Netherlands national team in friendlies as a left back. He even took part in some U-21 friendlies. This season as well, the Dutchman is performing admirably in his first team duties. Willems has made 15 Eredivisie appearances so far (all starts) and notched up 2 goals and an assist. He’s featured in the Europa League campaign as well, making 5 starts. He missed a month due to a knee injury, but has recovered well to try and help Cocu’s side out of their rut.
Looking to 2014: 2014 is a big year for Willems. While PSV aren’t exactly doing very well, his bright performances may just lead to a transfer abroad. For the national team as well, he looks like he may start at the World Cup now that Blind will probably play through the middle.
2) Raphael Varane
Who is he?: This young superstar needs to introduction as he’s already made quite a name for himself on the world stage. The 20 year old Frenchman can count himself as one of the stars at Real Madrid, and his good performances last season endeared him to their fans.
Back in 2013: In the first half of the 2012-13 season, Varane was used as a back up player to Pepe and Ramos, but after the new year, he broke into the first team, displacing Pepe, much to the latter’s discontent. The defender even made his full international debut during this period for France, playing against the likes of Spain. This season, Varane hasn’t been able to contribute to his club as yet, as he’s had a campaign that’s been interrupted by injury. He missed the first 4 games of the season due to injury, and a knee problem has kept him out since the beginning of November.
Looking to 2014: Varane will firstly be looking to get back on the field after he recovers from this injury. Playing time before the World Cup is vital for the defender who is sure to go with France, if he can stay fit. Ancelotti too, will be anxious about the fitness of the player, as he is someone who can shore up a backline that’s tended to be a bit leaky at times.
1) Kurt Zouma
Who is he?: Zouma is a 19 year old centre back who plays for AS Saint Etienne in the Ligue 1. The youngster has come through their academy and is set to represent France. The defender is incredibly talented, to the extent that he initially wasn’t given a number because his coaches didn’t want scouts to know who he was and try to prise him away.
Back in 2013: Zouma initially broke into the ASSE first team towards the end of 2011, so by the time 2013 started, Zouma was already a regular in the side. He started the year badly, as a sprained ankle kept him out for a few weeks, but ended the season strongly, contributing with goals against Lyon and Lorient. This season has been a bit topsy turvy for the player. He made 11 appearances before a red card against Sochaux saw him banned for 8 games. He returned only recently, in the game against Lille this past weekend.
Zouma has represented France for the junior level teams. He’s played for both the U-19’s and U-21’s in the recent past, most recently playing in the U-21 Euro Qualifiers. In the U-20 World Cup in the summer, Zouma was omnipresent. He spent the first two games on the bench, but then played every minute of their successful campaign from the loss to Spain. He was also selected to be a part of the French squad that thrashed Australia 6-0 in October, but didn’t see any game time.
Looking to 2014: Zouma is an unreal talent and his days at St. Etienne seem to be numbered. His athleticism is awe-inspiring and for the first part of 2014 at least he’ll be an important part of the team. With respect to his World Cup ambitions, he should make the 23 man squad but he’ll have to fight off stiff competition for a starting spot.
Stay tuned for the next part of this series.